Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God Help Me but I Agree with David Frum (again!)

What the hell is wrong with me? David Fucking Frum? Oy...
The job has overwhelmed [President Obama]. He’s not an alien, he’s not a radical. He’s just not the person the country needs. He’s not tough enough, he’s not imaginative enough, and he’s not determined enough.

In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the president ran out of ideas sometime back in 2009.

In the face of opposition, Obama goes passive. The mean Republicans refused votes on his Federal Reserve nominees and Obama … did nothing. Would Ronald Reagan have done nothing? FDR? Lyndon Johnson?

With unemployment at 10% and interest rates at 1%, the president got persuaded that it was debt and interest that trumped growth and jobs as Public Issue #1.
I think Obama is getting horrible advise from his inner circle and that that has a lot to do with his failure as a President, but it doesn't explain it all away.  He is responsible for steering a course for his Presidency and for the Nation and he has done an awful job to date.

Brad DeLong sums it up with a frightening prediction.
[F]or the first time I think it is more likely than not that Obama will lose the 2012 election. Never mind that as a reality-based leader he will be vastly superior to whatever wingnut or hypocrite the Republicans serve up--if the elite press adopts Frum's critique, then we have sixteen months to listen to the media speak with one voice about how Obama is not tough and decisive enough to be a good president.

Tea Party Zombie Lie #3008: Cutting Spending Creates Jobs (UPDATED)

Sorry, Charlie! Spending Cuts Don't Create Jobs...

From the start of the Great Recession in December 2007 through the end of 2010, 24 states have cut government spending by an average of 7.5 percent after adjusting for inflation. Another 25 states have expanded government outlays by an average of 11 percent. (The analysis excludes Alabama due to data problems reported by the National Association of State Budget Offices). And the differences in these states’ economic performance could not be more self-evident.
 UPDATE: I checked with the author and the correlation is -0.59 which indicates a moderate negative correlation.  In other words, the lower the spending cuts the higher the employment levels (the downward sloping line in the chart above).

Surprise! If you Privatize Prisons you GET MORE PRISONERS!

The profit motive is a powerful force.  So when you make it profitable to incarcerate people, please don't be shocked when we end up incarcerating more people.
So for the top ten private prison contracting states in the United States, there is a percent of the population under the carceral control of private firms – firms with a mix of shareholders, bondholders, CEOs, boards, marketing departments, etc. to pay and their private, profit-maximizing and cost-reducing ideas to entertain – roughly equivalent to the total percentage of incarcerated people in Europe. How cool is that?

2000 Years in One Chart

The Economist:
The chart below shows a population-weighted history of the past two millennia. By this reckoning, over 28% of all the history made since the birth of Christ was made in the 20th century. Measured in years lived, the present century, which is only ten years old, is already "longer" than the whole of the 17th century. This century has made an even bigger contribution to economic history. Over 23% of all the goods and services made since 1AD were produced from 2001 to 2010...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Republican Political Survival Suit!

As seen on Fox Noise!

Affordable Care Act: EPIC WIN!

Unlike Medicare Advantage, Obama's Affordable Care Act has been a magnificent success:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the most comprehensive reform of the U.S. medical system in at least 45 years. The ACA transforms the non-group insurance market in the United States, mandates that most residents have health insurance, significantly expands public insurance and subsidizes private insurance coverage, raises revenues from a variety of new taxes, and reduces and reorganizes spending under the nation’s largest health insurance plan, Medicare. Projecting the impacts of such fundamental reform to the health care system is fraught with difficulty.... [A] key case study that informs our understanding of the ACA’s impacts: a comparable health reform that was carried out in Massachusetts four years earlier....

  1. There has been a dramatic expansion of health insurance, reducing the uninsurance rate by 60-70%.
  2. No change in wait times for general and internal medicine practitioners have been observed.
  3. The share of the population with a usual source of care, receiving preventative care, and receiving dental care all rose.
  4. The rate of utilization of emergency care fell modestly.
  5. There has been a 40% decline in uncompensated care.
  6. The proportion of the population with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by 0.6%.
  7. The rate of employer offers of coverage grew from 70% to 76%.
  8. Mandate compliance has been very high: 98% compliance in reporting via tax filings of obtaining coverage or paying penalties.
  9. The administrative costs of health reform have been low. Overall implementation costs have been close to expectations.
  10. Premiums have fallen dramatically in the non-group market.
  11. Though group premiums have risen, they have not increased faster than one would expect from increases in other states in the region.

Medicare Advantage EPIC FAIL!

For those who don't know, Medicare Part C was an attempt to leverage the private insurance market to create a competitive framework for Medicare.  It has been a massive, epic failure resulting in huge cost overruns.  But then who is really surprised when greedy private insurance companies belly up to the Medicare trough to get their fill of copious taxpayer dollars?
Clearly this figure shows us very little about what happened between 1997 and 2004. Feel free to presume that the program saved Medicare so much money in those years that it offset the documented massive costs in other years, but I doubt you’d find many serious scholars agreeing with you. No, on the whole, the program has cost us and cost us dearly.

This need not be a condemnation of private plans, but it isn’t good news for pro-market advocates. Were I to don that hat, and I have done so, I’d be infuriated or embarrassed by this abysmal performance of MA plans. As a taxpayer, I’m none too happy. 
These are the same insurance companies Paul Ryan wants to entrust our parents and grandparents to.  How can anyone conscience this massive payoff to the private insurance companies who have performed so abysmally?

Stay in School!

Income disparity between high school grads and college grads is significant and across the board:

MacroAdvisors: Steep Deficit Cuts Could Harm Economy

Showdown With the Tea Party Terrorists

The Tea Party Terrorists are betting that Obama will blink on substantial spending cuts to defund programs that are both valuable and wildly popular.  They're hoping just the terroristic threat of a default on our soverign debt will be enough to frighten Mr. Obama into doing their bidding.  But they should know, America does not negotiate with terrorists, foreign or domestic.  So what might a default mean?  Well, there is historic president for an American default, believe it or not.  The Economist has the story:
[H]istory suggests that even a technical default can be costly. America’s only known instance of outright default (other than refusing to repay debts in gold in 1933) occurred in 1979 when the Treasury failed to redeem $122m of Treasury bills on time. It blamed unprecedentedly high interest from small investors, a delay in raising the debt ceiling and a word-processing-equipment failure. Although it repaid the money and a penalty to boot, a later study by Terry Zivney, now of Ball State University, and Richard Marcus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found it caused a 60-basis-point interest-rate premium on some federal debt. Today that would cost $86 billion a year or 0.6% of GDP, a hefty penalty for something so avoidable.

Even if Congress were to tackle turmoil by quickly lifting the debt ceiling, the stain would linger. “In the past our assumption was interest would always be paid on time,” says Steven Hess of Moody’s, a ratings agency which has cautioned that even a brief default would cost America its coveted Aaa status.

The Decline of Economic Power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

The Financial Times on the departure of the economic "Dream Team":
Today, the need for good economic advice – and talent for selling a policy’s merits – is greater than ever. But the all-star team has disbanded.

This week, Mr Obama leads budget talks with Congress over raising the statutory debt ceiling. To break the impasse, the White House should plan for cautiously phased spending cuts and tax increases and strive to get the public behind it. Lack of commanding economic policy promoters will make that task harder. Between now and the elections of November 2012, firmer leadership will be demanded of Mr Obama. It is a shame he did not provide it when he had the best help he could get.
The loss of Summers is a blow that will be hard for Obama to recover from.  The departure of Goolsbee and Romer also stings.  At a time when the nation needs a firm, experienced and disciplined hand at the economic helm, Mr. Obama is left with little in the way of economic star power to drive a functional agenda forward.  Instead he will kowtow to the GOP Tea Party and give in to recovery-killing tax cuts and job destroying austerity programs.  The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate and the poor will die.  But that's all part of the plan.

Stagflation? Not so much...

Krugsandra on Calvinball Redux:
The [Bank for International Settlements] report also argues that potential output has been permanently reduced by the slump, arguing in particular that “the destruction of human capital due to long-term unemployment” will weigh on growth. You might think that this was a reason to take urgent action to reduce long-term unemployment. But no.

And, inevitably, there are the alleged parallels with the 1970s. Except their own data suggests hardly any parallel at all. Here’s one comparison (ULC is unit labor costs):

Notice the difference in scales. In the 1970s there was a major wage-price spiral; this time none at all. But whatever.

And the BIS also goes for a lot of vague warnings about how low interest rates discourage responsible behavior.

There’s something going on here, and I don’t think it’s really about economic analysis. Like others, the BIS is clearly engaged in monetary Calvinball, making up rules and concepts on the fly so as to justify monetary tightening whatever the circumstances. There seems to be a deep urge to inflict pain, to purge the rottenness or something.

It’s scary. And the world will suffer for it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

UPDATE: Prosser Assault on Justice Bradley

From the Journal-Sentinal:
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley issued a statement late Saturday saying that fellow Justice David Prosser choked her and disputing claims that she attacked him first.

"The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold," she said. "Those are the facts and you can try to spin those facts and try to make it sound like I ran up to him and threw my neck into his hands, but that's only spin.

"Matters of abusive behavior in the workplace aren't resolved by competing press releases," she said.

"I'm confident the appropriate authorities will conduct a thorough investigation of this incident involving abusive behavior in the workplace."

Slavery Returns to Georgia

'Cotton Pickers', oil painting on panel by William Aiken Walker

In an appalling "solution" to Georgia's self-inflicted farm labor shortage, Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia has decided that he can conscript parolees to work the fields in lieu of the migrant workers he drove to other states through the draconian HB87 Anti-Immigrant Law.
He will use parolees, whose conditions of parole include "following all instructions from the parole officer, (and) gainfully working." He and Gary Black, Georgia's agriculture commissioner, are working closely with the Georgia Department of Corrections to fill the cotton fields of Georgia with "voluntary" workers.

Over 60 percent of the 26,000 people on parole in Georgia are considered "non-white," according to the Board of Parole--compared to about 40 percent of Georgia's population as a whole. An older study by the Georgia Board of Parole and Pardons found that Georgians are twice as likely (10.2 percent) to go to prison at some point in their life as all U.S. citizens (5.1 percent). A Black man in Georgia stands a 38.5 percent chance of going to prison, compared to the 28.5 percent of the national average.

Given the disgusting history of chattel slavery in Georgia, it's shocking that Gov. Deal would be so openly racist as to suggest this as a way forward for Georgia agriculture. However, this is in keeping with his support for racial profiling enshrined in HB 87.
A similar law is in the works for Wisconsin which, if enacted would likely scare undocumented workers to other states leaving Wisconsin farmers, especially dairy farmers, perilously short of labor.  I can see Walker emptying the Huber facilities and shipping the inmates off as indentured servants to the powerful  dairy lobby to ensure the milk keeps flowing.

Racism and bigotry caused this problem and Georgia is betting that doubling down on the racism and bigotry will solve it.  I'm betting not.

Wal-Mart's Sexism "Victory"

In a comment entitled "Walmart should fear its gender bias culture" at The Financial Times, Philip Delves Broughton raises some troubling consequences of Wal-Mart's 5-4 judicial victory over women who work there:
Forget about male managers dressing up in tights and tutus at company retreats. That is standard “good ol’ boy” stuff. Walmart’s real problem is that women fill 70 per cent of the hourly jobs in its shops and yet make up only 33 per cent of management. Women are paid less than men in every region and the salary gap between men and women widens over time. The company maintains an official policy against discrimination, but by giving latitude to shop managers to hire and promote, it has allowed an unofficial culture to flourish, which favours the promotion of men.

The plaintiffs claimed that senior managers would refer to female associates as “little Janie Qs”, and that one manager told an employee that “men are here to make a career and women aren’t”.

There are millions of votes to be gained in next year’s presidential election by a candidate able to explain the proper, trusting relationship between employers and workers, one that is both economically sensible and fair.

Last week, the Obama administration proposed rules to bring greater transparency to negotiations between employers and employees. The unions are going to be ever more forceful leading up to the 2012 presidential election. If the president does not take up their cause, a rival will – and Walmart should be very afraid. If the economy keeps stumbling, this could be one way to the White House.

Why does the GOP Tea Party Hate America?

The Financial Times:
“If Standard & Poor’s or any of the other major rating agencies downgrade the US, Treasuries would likely drop in value, possibly by as much as $100bn,” said analysts at S&P Valuation and Risk Strategies, a research team separate from the agency.
And what might cause such a catastrophic drop in credit rating? Why, continued brinksmanship over the debt ceiling of course!
While the threat of a US downgrade is remote, it remains a possibility given the projections of large long-term deficits and the impasse over raising the $14,300bn Treasury debt ceiling.

A ratings downgrade applied across all Treasury maturities could raise the cost of financing an annual budget deficit of $1,000bn by an additional $20bn.

It's BAAaaack!

When I was a very small child, many, many years ago, my mom drove a Fiat 500 around Cambridge and Boston.  It looked just like this

Aggressively frumpy and demonstrably so un-cool that it crossed over into hip, the old 500 (aka Nuovo) was closer in style and technology to the East German Trabant (the pride of Soviet-era automotive achievement) than anything else then available in America.  At the time, Americans were driving big boats with fins and bad suspension.  A tiny car like the Fiat was considered... odd.

It had a two-cylinder engine.  The engine was 476CCs (rounded up to 500... get it?) and made... 13BHP.  My motorcycle has two-cylinders but displaces 1150CCs  and makes a lot more horsepower than 13.  It was a riding lawnmower...  I remember you could remove a couple of bolts and lift the engine out by hand.

I suppose you could think of it as a kissing cousin of the VW Beetle and the Mini Cooper Mark 1, both available at that time as well and popular with poor but hip grad students.  If you were rich and hip, you drove a Deux Chevaux (Citroen 2CV) or a Volvo Amazon.

When the old 500 finally gave up the ghost, it ended up as a play structure at my kindergarden.  Seriously.

My family had a couple more Fiat's over the years.  A Fiat 131 Mirafiore and then a Fiat 124 Sport Spider which I inherited and had throughout my time at UConn.  I miss that car...  But the engine bolts rusted through and the engine ended up sitting on the oil pan in the parking lot.  It was a goner.  The 131 was totalled in an accident and written off for scrap.  That was the last Fiat we owned because Fiat abandoned the American car market in 1982.

Well imagine my surprise when I was thumbing through the Washington Post and ran across this ad
The new Fiat 500 is now available in America.  I sure hope it has more than 2 cylinders!  Welcome to the we-love-our-retro-cars club, Fiat.  I hope you've worked out that whole rusting-out problem that drove you out of America last time.  That and the old Fiat joke,
Q: What does FIAT stand for?
A: Fix It Again, Tony!

WaPo Editorial Calls For Corrective Action on Wage Disparity

The Washington Post:
Given the need for federal deficit reduction, now would seem to be an especially opportune time to eliminate the many ways in which government bestows unearned favors on the well-off. Slashing farm subsidies, which disproportionately favor rich farmers, is one obvious idea.

But the really big money is in the tax code, whose regressive provisions — such as the break for employer-paid health insurance; the favorable treatment of capital gains; and the mortgage-interest deduction — blow out the deficit and enable big earners to avoid paying their fair shares. With Washington forced to contemplate cutbacks in programs for the poor and middle class, it is unconscionable millionaires are still allowed tax deductions for mortgage interest on two houses.

Normally Dull WaPo Ombuds Column Drops a Journalistic Bombshell

In what is otherwise a dull, dull, dull column, the WaPo Ombudsman tells the story behind the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a former WaPo reporter
who confessed in a compelling 4,000-word piece for the New York Times last week that he was an illegal immigrant from the Philippines, brought to California by his grandparents when he was 12. In his rags-to-riches story is a disclosure that Peter Perl, The Post’s assistant managing editor for personnel, knew of Vargas’s illegal status when Vargas was a Post employee from 2004 to 2009. Perl kept it a secret.

Vargas, who was part of a Pulitzer-winning reporting team in 2007, brought his first-person confessional to this paper in late March, and Post editors spent many weeks editing and fact-checking and getting Vargas to do additional work for the free-lance story. Editors described the editing and vetting as unusually thorough and exacting.

Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli suddenly killed the story in mid-June.
You should read both the story in the Times as well as the Ombuds report in the WaPo. It's a glimpse into how the mainstream media treads a fine line between objectivity and subjectivity.

Do Not Militarize Terrorism Prosecutions!

Excellent New York Times editorial The Phony Tough-on-Terror Crowd:
President Obama must push the Democratic leadership to amend the Senate bill — and make it clear that he will veto any bill that turns over proper law enforcement functions to the military.

For decades, terrorism has been prosecuted — with great success — in civilian courts. The Bush team insisted, falsely, that these courts were not tough enough for the war on terrorism and pushed the use of military courts for some “unlawful combatants.”

The most basic truth — which almost no politician will dare to admit — is that federal court trials work. The military tribunals (which started with Mr. Bush’s kangaroo courts and now involve a system that is somewhat more refined but still flawed) have managed to extract a few minor plea deals. They have yet to render a verdict or impose a stiff sentence on a single high-profile terrorist.
Obama ran on a plank of eliminating these illegal military "tribunals" and he should stick to his convictions, terrorists are best dealt with (as Al Gor was crucified for saying) as a law enforcement problem, not a military problem.

If All You Have is a Hammer...

The Only Implement in Maureen Dowd's Toobox
Maureen Dowd sees the world in black and white (the hammer).  She assumes everyone else sees the world the same way (the nail).  So when she brings this parochial view to judge a President who is capable of nuance and declares that "Our president likes to be on both sides at once" she commits a serious logical fallacy.

Because when all you see is binary, nuance is lost on you.
As a community organizer, Obama developed impressive empathetic gifts. But now he is misusing them. It’s not enough to understand how everybody in the room thinks. You have to decide which ones in the room are right, and stand with them. A leader is not a mediator or an umpire or a convener or a facilitator.
Dowd has never worked in the real world with real bosses who have to negotiate between competing views.  Her vision is of an authoritarian President, like Dick Cheney, says more about her psychological daddy fixation hang-ups than it does about Obama's skills.

Why does she still have a job?

Prosser Sighted in Sunday's New York Times

...but not in a good way.  Under the headline

Wisconsin Judge Said to Have Attacked Colleague

Is a big picture of Justice David Prosser.
The report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio described an episode in which three unnamed sources said that Justice David T. Prosser had grabbed another justice, Ann Walsh Bradley, around the neck during an argument in her chambers this month.

Late Saturday, a separate Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report described a physical encounter in which two sources offered conflicting accounts of what happened, including one in which Justice Bradley was said to have charged at Justice Prosser.

“Once there’s a proper review of this matter, and the facts surrounding it are made clear, the anonymous claim made to the media will be proven false,” Justice Prosser said in a statement he released late Saturday. “Until then, I will refrain from further public comment.”
Ah, the ever popular non-denial denial.  A favorite among the guilty.

I'm so proud to live in Wisconsin where justice is for sale to the highest bidder and (potential) felons sit on the state's highest court.

"Too Big to Fail" Banks Required to Hold Increased Capital Reserves

The New York Times:
The chief oversight group of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision proposed that the world’s largest and most complex banks would need to hold a reserve of high-quality capital of between 1 and 2.5 percent of their assets to cope with any unforeseen losses. That would be on top of their proposed minimum capital levels for all banks, currently set at 7 percent of assets.

In a statement Saturday, the panel of regulators said the new measures would create strong incentives for large banks to curb risky behavior that could endanger the financial system. “This will contribute to enhancing the resiliency of the banking system and help mitigate the wider spill-over risks,” said Nout Wellink, a central banker from the Netherlands who is chairman of the Basel Committee.
While this is a step in the right direction, in America, a re-imposition of the strictures of the Glass-Steagall act would be more appropriate.
The act introduced the separation of bank types according to their business (commercial and investment banking), and it founded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for insuring bank deposits. The FDIC law was an amendment to the Federal Reserve Act, which was later withdrawn as part of this Glass–Steagall Act and Federal Reserve Act to become the Federal Deposit Insurance Act by decree in the Federal Deposit Insurance Act of 1950.
Forcing banks back into their corners would prevent episodes like we saw in the 2009 banking crisis.  From a 2010 Economix blog post,
For the second time in less than 80 years, the nation’s commercial banks are being told to stick to their knitting. Their knitting is taking deposits, handling checking accounts, lending money and managing the nation’s payment system. Twice now, they have ventured beyond these standard activities, gotten into trouble and almost brought down the financial system.

The San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge: Made in China

Workers at Shanghai Zhenhua finish the welding on a section of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Photo from NYTimes)
No, I'm not kidding.  China wants to be the world's civil engineer.
Next month, the last four of more than two dozen giant steel modules — each with a roadbed segment about half the size of a football field — will be loaded onto a huge ship and transported 6,500 miles to Oakland. There, they will be assembled to fit into the eastern span of the new Bay Bridge.

The project is part of China’s continual move up the global economic value chain — from cheap toys to Apple iPads to commercial jetliners — as it aims to become the world’s civil engineer.
But, as with anything stamped "Made in China," you ultimately get what you pay for.
American steelworker unions have disparaged the Bay Bridge contract by accusing the state of California of sending good jobs overseas and settling for what they deride as poor-quality Chinese steel. Industry groups in the United States and other countries have raised questions about the safety and quality of Chinese workmanship on such projects. Indeed, China has had quality control problems ranging from tainted milk to poorly built schools.
So American steelworkers are now expected to compete with Chinese workers making 1/10th what their American counterparts make.  Yes, I do so love the global economy.

So the next time you hear a GOP Teabagger berating a Union member for fighting for fair wages and benefits, either in the public or private sector, tell them the Chinese agree with him and that they thank him for the work.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Some of my Best Friends are Felons!"

Scott Walker sure keeps some sordid company.  First, Justice Prosser, his good bench buddy is under investigation for assaulting a judicial colleague, and now he has to change the budget signing venue because his buddy in Green Bay, Gregory A. DeCaster was convicted of income tax evasion.

It sure is refreshing to have a maverick-ey governor!  191 days and counting!

4 Ways to Remove Justice Prosser from Office

Think Progress:
  1. Resignation: The most obvious solution is that Prosser should immediately step down from his position on the state supreme court. It should be self evident that a violent felon has no business as a judge — much less as a supreme court justice — and if Prosser truely possess the independent judgment he claimed to have in his recent reelection campaign this fact should be clear to him as well
  2. Impeachment: The Wisconsin Constitution permits judges to be removed through an impeachment trial and conviction. As under the U.S. Constitution, this process requires a majority vote in the state assembly to begin impeachment proceedings and a two-thirds vote in the senate to convict. Impeachment could potentially be the quickest way to prevent Prosser from ruling on any more cases until this matter is resolved, as the state constitution provides that “[n]o judicial officer shall exercise his office, after he shall have been impeached, until his acquittal.”
  3. Removal by Address: A supermajority of both houses of the state legislature can also remove Prosser through a process known as “removal by address.” Under this process, “Any justice or judge may be removed from office by address of both houses of the legislature, if two−thirds of all the members elected to each house concur therein.”
  4. Recall: As a last resort, Prosser may be removed by a recall election using the same process that was recently invoked to attempt to recall several state senators. Under Wisconsin law, however, elected officials enjoy a one year grace period during the beginning of their term in office where they are immune from recall. Because Prosser was just recently reelected, this means he could continue to serve as a justice for quite a while before a recall election could take place.

Yet Another Example of the Power of Socialism

Socialized medicine works.  Get over it, GOP Tea Party.  You're wrong.

Pesky Data Thwarts GOP Talking Points AGAIN!

Jared Bernstein:
Back in 1979, the average income of the top 1% was about 33 times that of the bottom fifth. In 2007, that ratio had grown to 100. The real income of middle-class households grew 19% over these years, less than 1% per year, while that of the top 5% grew by about 150% and the top 1%, by 240%.
What part of "the rich are getting richer" isn't clear to the GOP Tea Party?
Source: CBO

Sweden: Poster Child for Successful Recovery

The People's Republic of Sweden presents us with a perfect example of a nation learning from their economic mistakes in crises past and implementing fixes from that learning.  The Washington Post has a great summary of 5 things Sweden learned.
The overarching lesson the Swedes offer is this: When you have a financial crisis, and Sweden had a nasty one in the early 1990s, learn from it. Don’t simply muddle through and hope that growth will eventually return. Rather, address the underlying causes of the crisis to create an economic and financial system that will be more resilient when bad times return.
Shocking, I know.  Learning from past experiences rather than implementing ideology "fixes" that do nothing but make the situation worse (austerity, anyone?) .

Justice Prosser Throttles Colleague

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, alleged victim of an
assault by Justice David Prosser
In an incident reported to the Capitol Police, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly assaulted another Supreme Court Justice, Ann Walsh Bradley, grabbing her by the throat in her office in the presence of other Justices.
[Witnesses] say an argument that occurred before the court’s release of a decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees culminated in a physical altercation in the presence of other justices. Bradley purportedly asked Prosser to leave her office, whereupon Prosser grabbed Bradley by the neck with both hands.
The argument allegedly stemmed from the recent 4-3 decision overturning collective bargaining.
It is unclear what day the incident took place. Sources say it happened last week, before the court’s release of its ruling on the collective bargaining case. The decision was released on the afternoon of June 14.
Needless to say, this violates numerous cannons of professional conduct for Wisconsin judges as well as several criminal statutes.

This is what happens when ideology trumps good sense and we re-elect an ideological drone to our state's highest court.

The Profession by Steven Pressfield

The ProfessionThe Profession by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fascinating near-future book about the struggles of the American republic at the hands of a modern-day Caesar. Not a bad book, but not one of Pressfield's best.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 24, 2011

Work Sharing: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

CEPR (pdf):
There are two basic ways to increase employment: increasing output and thereby increasing the demand for labor, or dividing up the existing work among more workers. In responding to the current downturn, policymakers in the United States have focused almost exclusively on the former route. This may in principle be the more desirable route, since there is enormous waste associated with an economy operating below its potential, however all the obvious routes for providing further stimulus now appear to be blocked by political considerations. In this context, it is worth considering the alternative route of sharing the available work among more workers.
Work sharing has been used in Europe to bring more people into the workforce during times of economic strain.
Germany is the model in this respect. It has aggressively promoted a policy of work sharing, along with other measures aimed at persuading employers to retain workers. As a result, its standardized unemployment rate now stands at 6.7 percent, 0.4 percentage points below the rate at the start of the downturn. This remarkable achievement was not due to superior economic growth. Through the fourth quarter of 2010, the growth rate of Germany’s economy since the start of the downturn had actually lagged somewhat behind the growth rate of the United States. The fact that Germany’s unemployment rate had fallen, while the unemployment rate in the United States had risen by 4.4 percentage points, was entirely due to different labor-market responses to the downturn.

Brookings Institute Review of Libya War Issues

Is this War?
There's been much Sturm und Drang (rightly so) around Obama and the use (or, in this case, the non-use) of the War Powers Act in his support of the Libyan rebels.  Robert M. Chesney over at The Brookings Institute writes,
The first and seemingly more important question is whether the unilateral commitment of forces in Libya violates the Constitution. ... The intervention in Libya, the administration was suggesting, did not implicate the prerogatives of Congress because the U.S. role was limited (and becoming more so all the time); unlikely to expose any U.S. persons to attack.... These claims excited some commentary, to be sure, but Congress ... appeared uninterested in making hay of the issue.

The second issue had a longer fuse. The War Powers Resolution (WPR) is a Vietnam-era statute that requires the U.S. president to:
  1. Consult with Congress when deploying U.S. armed forces in certain circumstances;
  2. Give Congress a formal report within 48 hours of certain deployments; and
  3. Withdraw those forces within 60 days of that report if Congress has not authorized the deployment in the interim or at least extended that deadline (though the President can have an additional 30 days to effectuate the withdrawal if necessary).
[T]he 60-day clock ran out a full month ago (and President Obama did not invoke the 30-day extension period for withdrawal of forces, nor could he since we are not in fact withdrawing them).

Taken as a whole, the Obama administration’s WPR compliance arguments strike me as ultimately unpersuasive, but certainly not wholly unfounded as some critics have suggested.
War is supposed to be difficult. It should not be possible for one man, even if he is President, to commit troops to an effort that exceeds the authority granted to him by Congress. This was true for Reagan, true for Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and is true for Obama as well. This dancing around the edges of Constitutionality is unseemly and brings the stench of the Bush II administration back into the White House.

We Are Wisconsin PAC Ad for Shelly Moore

Good one!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Small Victory in a Long War

Fighting for labor rights in America seems futile at times.  But sometimes small victories can lessen the struggle of the weary warriors and even open up an opportunity to grow union representation.  Yesterday, the NLRB voted to change the election rules for certifying unions (WARNING: Difficult Reading).  Effectively shortening the time it takes for workers to approve a union in their shop, these new rules could greatly boost union membership in America.  Kevin Drum reports
organizing a new workplace has gotten so hard in recent years thanks to corporate-friendly NLRB rule changes and increasingly aggressive union avoidance campaigns, that unions simply don't bother waging all that many recognition elections anymore. They know that most of them are hopeless. The result is that the net number of election wins has dropped nearly in half in just the last decade alone.
More below the fold.

Taste the Cognitive Dissonance!

Sometimes I think that people can't get out of the way of their own ideology.  In a post that says this:
Currently there is no compelling evidence to suggest that higher levels of Government involvement in the economy may stifle investment returns. However, inevitably returns will be affected.
Then you post a chart like this:
The annualised sharemarket returns for several major economies for the 39 year period ending 31 December 2008.
Source: ‘Government Intervention & Stock Returns’, Westin Wellington, MSCI data, July 2009
where the "socialist" economies of France, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden all outperform the Market Paradise United States, what can you really say about large governments and their impact on economic productivity?  Despite all the evidence presented in your own chart, you must conclude
For every $1 spent by Government, it is $1 less spent by private enterprise. In the long term, we believe in Adam Smith’s statement that, in general, markets should be free of Government influence.

This shit just writes itself, doesn't it?


Comparing the inflation-adjusted stock prices between Socialist France and Mighty Mighty Cowboy Capitalist USA shows something startling... Laissez-Faire is really Laissez-Failure.

Sucking off the Unemployment Benefit Teat!

Yes, he went there... According to Jim Buchen, vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, we don't need to extend unemployment benefits because
"We are increasingly hearing from people that they are having trouble hiring workers who are on unemployment because they want to wait until their benefits are exhausted."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blind (or Bald) Ambition

The Peter Principle in Action!
Ambition in the service of ambition is bad.
Instead, the problem is with ambition in the pursuit of what MacIntyre called the goods of effectiveness - power and wealth....

Such ambition can be corrosive for an organization. It encourages workers to invest in general skills - the sort that can be assessed by one’s superiors - rather than technical ones, with the result that average productivity declines. It causes us to regard our fellow workers as rivals rather than colleagues and so impedes the cooperation and open communication that is necessary for corporate success.

The skills you need to be a good senior manager are extremely - vanishingly - rare. ... It follows that most people who aspire to top management jobs are ill-equipped to do them*. They are, therefore, guilty either of a lack of self-knowledge and over-confidence, or of appalling selfishness - they want the job even though it would damage the organization.

So, far from applauding ambition we should, in most cases, oppose it.
Man, that explains so much about the senior management where I work...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Italy will be the Euro's Last Stand!

Eurozone Creditors Storm the Walls of Rome!
At least according to two guys at The Financial Times. Edward Altman and Maurizio Esentato, a professor and a CEO, have analysed data from the Eurozone and have concluded that Italy will represent the last battleground to preserve the Euro.
Thus, we turn to Italy. The country has far more sovereign debt outstanding, almost $2,000bn, than any of the other problematic governments. While ultimately the euro’s survival will come down to political realities we feel the euro’s financial market “battle” will come down to the plight of Italy. Its debt, if added to the mounting EU and IMF’s responsibility, may simply be too much and the euro will then crumble.

[O]ur overall credit risk metric, while better than two years ago, places Italy among the riskiest private corporate sectors. If the European stock market, and Italy’s especially, suffers another downturn, our risk measure will surely deepen and leave Italian government debt vulnerable to the same type of market attack the other peripherals have had to endure, with the attendant increase in interest rates and credit insurance premiums.
Gird your loins! Don your armor! Man the balistas! To the walls, boys, to the walls!!!!

Rescued From the Memory Hole: Tulsa Race War of 1921

"The Tulsa Race War of 1921"/R. Halliburton, Jr.
In today's New York Times there is a fascinating story about a small piece of recovered history.
With their guns firing, a mob of white men charged across the train tracks that cut a racial border through this city. A 4-year-old boy named Wess Young fled into the darkness with his mother and sister in search of safety, returning the next day to discover that their once-thriving black community had burned to the ground.
This event, known as the Tulsa Race War, was literally "forgotten" by Oklahomans and it was never recorded in the history of the state or the nation.  Think about that.  Less than 100 years ago, in the racially charged 1920s a whole African-American community was literally burned to the ground, 300 people murdered and it was "disappeared" from American history.
About 40 blocks were destroyed, including 1,256 homes, many of which had been looted before they were set alight. The death toll, most likely never to be fully determined, was estimated in the state report at 100 to 300. Survivors were rounded up and interned by the National Guard. Many of the homeless spent the following year living in tents pitched in the ruins of the neighborhood.

A grand jury at the time blamed the black community for the riot. No one was convicted of participating in the riot; no one was compensated for lost property. Soon after, the story essentially disappeared — buried so deeply that people who lived their entire lives here, including prominent leaders like mayors and district attorneys, said they had never heard of the riot until recent decades.
I really wonder how many of those who claim never to have heard about it are really being honest...  Denial is a powerful psychological force.

Read more about the race riot at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

"Fool me Once, Shame on, Shame on You. Fool me, You Can’t Get Fooled Again"

Corporations are looking for a way to return overseas profits to the United States under a program that would tax those profits at a paltry 5.25%, instead of the current rate of 35%.  The argument goes like this.
Corporations and their lobbyists say the tax break could resuscitate the gasping recovery by inducing multinational corporations to inject $1 trillion or more into the economy, and they promoted the proposal as “the next stimulus” at a conference last Wednesday in Washington.

“For every billion dollars that we invest, that creates 15,000 to 20,000 jobs either directly or indirectly,” Jim Rogers, the chief of Duke Energy, said at the conference. Duke has $1.3 billion in profits overseas.
There's just one problem with this proposal.  It's a lie.  Back in 2005 these very same corporations convinced the easy-to-convince Bush administration to provide a similar profit repatriation scheme.  Guess what happened?
But that’s not how it worked last time. Congress and the Bush administration offered companies a similar tax incentive, in 2005, in hopes of spurring domestic hiring and investment, and 800 took advantage.

Though the tax break lured them into bringing $312 billion back to the United States, 92 percent of that money was returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks, according to a study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research.
Yep.  That worked out so well.  Tell corporations to pay their fair share.

Scott Adams Responds to Me

Or his bot did...
Just curious, did you read the original piece that says the opposite of condoning?

Scott Adams
To which I replied:
Yes and no it doesn't. Basically, you include rape as a "natural instinct" of maleness and that our culture is at fault for suppressing it.

Your words, Scott, not mine.

No doubt you have noticed an alarming trend in the news. Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn’t blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society’s tools for keeping things under control.

The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn’t ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, “Here’s your square hole”?

I understand you were attempting to make a point about Wiener's wiener, I get it. But you roll rape into it and all bets are off. And when you structure your article to suggest that rape is in the same category as tweeting your penis, you have to expect a significant volume of blowback.

Rape is not a "natural instinct" in any sense of the word, it is force, a domination of will over another. Rape is a violation. Rape has nothing to do with sex in the sense you are thinking. It is not a forced intimacy, it is simply force and domination. That is why armies use it as a tool of war.

Shame on you for your post, Scott. The opprobrium is well deserved.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Boys will be Boys: Scott Adams and the Libyan Rape Squads

From The New York Times:
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said this month that evidence was emerging that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had authorized his soldiers to rape Libyan women, an assertion that seemed to confirm months of rumors about a brutal, continuing campaign.

“We have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government,” the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said at a recent news conference. There is evidence, he said, that anti-impotence drugs were bought in bulk and supplied to soldiers. In some parts of Libya, he said, there may have been hundreds of victims.
In light of Scott Adams' views on "rape" as a "natural" part of the male psyche, I'm sure he'll tell us that this policy as just fine with him.  Dilbert is dead to me.

Olbermann Sums Up My Love for Baseball and Politics All At Once!

From The New York Times Magazine:
Watching the Yankees take apart the Mets calmed him a little, but only a little. “I like the rules of the game,” he said. “They are comforting in a way. In sports, nobody comes after a game they lost and claims they won. That happens all the time in politics. And it’s not a game. The country is at stake!”
Remember, kids, Countdown resumes on Current TV starting tomorrow (June 20th, 2011)!!!!



Garden Border Follies Update!

The garden border is coming along nicely!

Jon Stewart Schools Chris Wallace

Damn, tell it like it is, Jon!

Stewart: I'm given credibility in this world because of the disappointment the public has in what the news media does.
Wallace: I don't think our viewers are the least bit disappointed in us. I think our viewers think finally they're getting someone who tells the other side of the story.
Stewart: And in polls who is the most consistently misinformed media viewers? Who's consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers.
Well done, Mr. Stewart!

Racism is Funny

See how funny racism is if a black guy is doing it?  High-larious! Listen to the bitter old white people laugh and laugh and laugh!  But don't you dare make fun of our Krazy Klown Kar Kandidates™!

The Obama "impersonator" at the Republican "Leadership" Convention is escorted off the stage after making fun of the 2012 GOP Lunatic Fringe Candidates.

Israeli Intransigence

Rabin, Clinton and Arafat
I don't usually comment on the Palestinian / Israeli situation because there is more than enough blame to go around.  But in the face of positive changes in the Palestinian political situation, the Israeli move to the right, away from reconciliation, seems counterproductive.  In an OpEd in the Financial Times, Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian politician writes:
Israel is not interested in peace; it wants to maintain apartheid. The PLO recognised Israel back in 1993, in an exchange of letters between Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian president, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister. Eighteen years later, it is time for Israel to recognise Palestine.

In our vision for peace, Jerusalem will be a shared and open capital, and a Palestinian state will be framed by the internationally recognised 1967 border with minor modifications in our interest, and not to legitimate illegal settlements. We believe a just and agreed solution to the issue of refugees can be based on UN resolution 194, as stated in the Arab Peace Initiative. With these principles, we are prepared to return to negotiations.

Mr Netanyahu’s gamesmanship aside, we are pleased that Mr Obama recognised that Palestine must be based on the 1967 border. If Israel continues to choose colonisation over a two-state solution, we hope that the US will support our peaceful efforts to realise our national rights at the UN this September. As Mr Obama noted, the transformations taking place in the Middle East provide “a moment of opportunity”. We ask that this not be missed: it is truly an opportunity for Palestinians, Israelis, and world peace.

Dilbert is Dead to Me

After what Scott Adams had to say about rape, Dilbert should be dead to you, too.
Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn't blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society's tools for keeping things under control.

The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn't ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, "Here's your square hole"?
Fuck you, Scott Adams, right in your square fucking hole.

About that whole Tea Party grassroots thing...

Not so much...  According to a new book, The Tea Party is an
ugly, authoritarian, and fake-populist pseudo-movement directed from above and early on, by and for elite Republican and business interests. Its active membership and leadership are far from "grassroots" and "popular," far more affluent and reactionary than the U.S. citizenry as a whole, and even than the segment of the populace that purports (at the prompting of some pollsters) to feel "sympathy" for the Tea Party.
But wait, it gets better...
Beneath the failure to fully exclude such noxious elements lies a deeper problem: Most Tea Partiers do harbor racist opinions--though often in a more subtle, implicit and outwardly "color-blind" way than the more extreme racists at their rallies. And Tea Party racism--largely implicit and "color-blind" in relation to blacks and Latinos--is explicit and full-blown when it comes to Muslim Americans. (emphasis in original).
Read more in the book by Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio entitled Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics.

Oh, SNAP! Or Why I Love D r i f t g l a s s. . .

Driftglass on the Netroots 2011 Wingnut Stalkers:
That the barrenness of their ideological cupboard is now so complete that a Wall Street Journal douchbag from New York ["sock puppet" John Fund] and a mid-level wingnut talking point Pez dispenser from Chicago [Warren Todd Huston] would travel all the way to Minnesota just to slink around among the happy energetic Liberals to grub for crumbs of incipient socialism About Which They Can Be Loudly Outraged, and crib notes about what panels the Dirty Fucking Hippes had put together to destroy America.

If Atheists Acted like Christians

The Scale of the Foreclosure Crisis (UPDATED)

It's difficult to grasp the scale of the housing foreclosure debacle.  The New York Times makes an effort to give an example of the scale.
In New York State, it would take lenders 62 years at their current pace, the longest time frame in the nation, to repossess the 213,000 houses now in severe default or foreclosure, according to calculations by LPS Applied Analytics, a prominent real estate data firm.

Clearing the pipeline in New Jersey, which like New York handles foreclosures through the courts, would take 49 years. In Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois, it would take a decade.
UPDATE: Naked Capitalism turns a more critical eye to the foreclosure problem and finds that it is the banks, more than the public sector, that had a complete process meltdown.
[F]oreclosures that depended on fraudulent procedures are far less likely to be put forward in judicial foreclosure states (ones where the proceeding takes place through the court system), particularly ones where at least some of the judges are paying attention.

Thus what the article depicts as “backlog” (remember, LPS is including “severe defaults”, meaning deliquencies that have not yet resulted in foreclosure) is far more likely to be the result of foreclosures that either will not be initiated or have been abandoned. In other words, the samples all include a mix of foreclosures that are moving forward to resolution which should be parsed out and analyzed separately to see what the real time to foreclosure is, versus ones that the banks have dropped and/or are not initiating (and I don’t mean dropped by virtue of being contested, I mean left in limbo by the bank).

The Rich aren't Like Us: Class War Coup d'état

In many ways, the rich aren't like us.  But then that's because they're rich.  Oh, and they're getting richer by the second.  While 99% of Americans see their wages stagnate, the rich continue to eat more of the pie.  In a 2010 paper by economist Emmanuel Saez he shows just how true this is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Support Wisconsin Breweries: BOYCOTT MillerCoorsWalkerCorp™!

For those who don't know, MillerCoorsWalkerCorp™ have launched an attack on small brewers and brew pubs in Wisconsin. This is, of course, in addition to their significant financial support of the Fitzwalkerstan Agenda through campaign contributions.

This comes from Ken Walsh on Facebook:
So many amazing craft brews in Wisconsin, it should be easy to boycott every single one on this list! I'm pretty sad about Blue Moon, love that beer. And yes, Leinenkugel's is also on the boycott list. : ( But remember that when you buy these beers, your are supporting the same people taking money away from education, from seniors, from health care, from clean water, from the environment and many other things and people that contribute to the Wisconsin way of life.

Do your part! Drink local!

Beers to Boycott
  • Keystone Light
  • Red Dog
  • Extra Gold Lager
  • Coors Non-Alcoholic
  • Steel Reserve High Gravity
  • Southpaw Light
  • Sharp's
  • Mickey's Malt Liquor
  • Foster's
  • Olde English 800
  • Magnum Malt Liquor
  • Hamm's
  • Tyskie
  • Cusquena
  • Cristal
  • Aguila
  • Icehouse
  • Sparks
  • Molson Canadian
  • Milwaukee's Best Light
  • Leinenkugel's
  • Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve
  • George Killian's Irish Red
  • Miller anything
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Peroni Nastro Azzurro
  • Blue Moon (this one hurts!)
  • Coors anything

    Michelle Bachmann: Strong Arm of the IRS

    Anyone surprised?
    Bachmann [said] she worked in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, representing the IRS against people who underpaid or didn't pay their taxes. She did this from 1988 to 1993.

     (Image shamelessly stolen from The Dump Bachmann Blog)

    David Brooks Should Just Stop...

    Seriously.  Just stop now.  Blaming the mortgage crisis on Fannie Mae, ACORN(!) and Barney Frank? Those magic mushrooms have really gone to your head, David.  Time to hang it up.
    [T]he Fannie Mae scandal is the most important political scandal since Watergate. It helped sink the American economy.

    Fannie Mae co-opted relevant activist groups, handing out money to Acorn, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other groups that it might need on its side.

    Only two of the characters in this tale come off as egregiously immoral. Johnson made $100 million while supposedly helping the poor. Representative Barney Frank, whose partner at the time worked for Fannie, was arrogantly dismissive when anybody raised doubts about the stability of the whole arrangement.
    Except of course that the majority of the bad mortgages weren't securitized by Fannie Mae, they were securitized by private investment companies and banks.
    There's a small problem in this story. The worst junk mortgages that inflated the housing bubble to extraordinary levels were not bought and securitized by Fannie and Freddie, they were securitized by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Lehman and the other private investment banks. These investment banks gobbled up the worst subprime and Alt-A garbage that sleaze operations like Ameriquest and Countrywide pushed on homebuyers.

    The trillions of dollars that the geniuses at the private investment banks funneled into the housing market were the force that inflated the bubble to its 2006 peaks. Fannie and Freddie were followers in this story, jumping into the subprime and Alt-A market in 2005 to try to maintain market share. They were not the leaders.

    Just to be clear, Fannie and Freddie were serious bad actors. They are both huge companies that do nothing else but deal with housing. It is incredible that they did not recognize the housing bubble and take steps to try to deflate it, and protect themselves, before it grew to such dangerous levels.
    Pack it up, Mr. Brooks.  Your time is up.

    Now With Even More Magic Sparkles and Unicorns!

    When iPhone Users Colide vs When Android Users Colide

    Compare and contrast!

    Not just Anti-Gay, but Anti-Union too!

    Time to say good-bye to the Big Red Box.
    Goodbye, Target's reputation as a place that liberals who don't like Wal-Mart can shop without guilt! But just how anti-union is Target? According to former Target employees: very.

    After yesterday's story, we heard from multiple people who had or have worked at Target. Although Wal-Mart has a longstanding reputation as the most voraciously anti-union big box retailer, these employees tell us that Target is just as bad. For example, all new hires have to watch an anti-union video as part of their training. A full transcript of that video can be found here.
    Here's the video...  Amazing...

    The Psychology of Politics

    "Jane, you ignorant slut..."
    A new scientific study finds that a liberal ideology correlates highly with "openness to experience."  But that this correlation is strongly influenced by various childhood traumas.